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Amadeu Altafaj: "Brussels believes that Rajoy has lost his grip on Catalonia"

The Catalan government’s permanent representative to the EU expects Brussels to call on the Spanish government to negotiate with Catalonia in the event of a clear victory by pro-independence parties on 27 September

He has been in Brussels for 20 years, and now, as the Govern’s permanent representative to the European Union, Amadeu Altafaj is the voice charged with explaining the process in Catalonia beyond its borders.

After 9-N, some claim that the Catalan independence process has lost momentum. Is that how it is seen in the EU?

No. In the EU the Catalan issue is still high on the agenda. But in Brussels they are also very interested in the growing fragmentation in the entire Spanish political spectrum. As such, attention is divided among the whole sequence of elections taking place this year in Spain.

Has Spain gone from being an economic worry for Brussels to becoming a political concern?

Yes, because in economic terms the growth figures are positive, although the unemployment problem is still enormous. The political angle is what raises more questions, due to the appearance of parties that may or may not be a source of political instability.

What is your message to the people you speak with in Brussels?

That if many Catalans have decided to break the current status quo, it is the result of a rational, logical, and sensible reaction from a national point of view, to preserve the traits of our identity. I explain to them how Spain’s Constitutional Court has operated during the past few years, how the Catalan Statute was struck down, Catalonia’s tax situation, and how the deficit ceilings have been distributed.

And do they understand?

In the past Catalonia featured less on the agenda in Brussels. Now, not only do they understand these types of arguments, but they are also bewildered by how the Spanish government has handled the issue. They have the feeling that what was clearly political situation --that should have been resolved through political dialogue-- has gotten out of hand. That said, it’s clear that Europe is a union of States, a club of member States, and there is still a certain solidarity among members of this club.

What importance is given in Brussels to the local polls this month and the Catalan election on 27 September?

The municipal elections are seen as a test on a Spanish scale to see how the populist parties manage to draw voters. The 27-S election will depend first on what the parties do, as there is no single, joint candidacy, which would have been preferable.

Would they understand the results better with a single list?

Undoubtedly. The message would be much clearer, more powerful, and easier to understand. That said, there are other ways of achieving a result that is sufficiently clear.

Such as?

A joint effort must begin early on, with platforms that agree on some of the points. The day after the elections the ballots will have to be counted and explained in the form of a resolution or pronouncement.

Would a majority of seats be enough for Europe? Or would there have to be 51% of votes in favor of independence?

Democracy in Europe operates through parliamentary majorities.

Is it true that Europe would never accept a unilateral declaration?

The majority of actions that have been taken in the last five years in the area of economic policy were legally impossible and politically unthinkable. And speaking of accession to the EU, not everyone was equally willing to welcome the Balkan countries that emerged from Yugoslavia, but it was done and today Slovenia is a member of the EU and the eurozone, and Croatia is also in the EU.

If there is a clear majority in favor of independence on 27-S, can we assume that Brussels will ask the Spanish government to negotiate?

It’s possible. And someone may have already suggested it. There would be messages that would reach Madrid discreetly.

To what extent could the Spanish government throw a spanner in the works?

That is unlikely. Authoritarian messages run a high risk of being counterproductive.

Is it true that Catalonia would have to apply for readmission to the EU, if it became independent?

It isn’t explicitly stated in the treaties. It would require a negotiation. The legal fit would be a consequence of political discussions.